College admissions counselors are impressed by students who spend their summers working. They can infer that you are responsible, mature, capable of making a commitment and can manage your time—all skills that will serve you well in college. The specific job(s) you include on your application also showcase your personal attributes, skills and interests. This is the information an admissions counselor needs to determine if you will be a good fit for the college and how you will contribute to the campus community. When filling out your college application, think about what you want admissions counselors to know about you and intentionally describe your summer job to clearly deliver your message.
There are four places on the Common Application where students can highlight their employment experience. Your choice of where to feature a summer job will depend upon how significant the job is in showcasing your skills, interests and personal attributes compared with your other activities.
1. Activities Section of the Common Application
In the Activities section of the Common Application, students can list and briefly describe up to ten activities. If you choose to discuss your summer job here, your description should include specific responsibilities, the hard skills you acquired and/or how soft skills were applied on the job.
2. College Essay/Personal Statement
You may choose your summer job as your college essay topic. The purpose of the essay is to tell admissions counselors something that isn’t reflected in any other part of the application and give the them a sense of your character, personality and interests. Your essay should not simply describe your job. It should show something deeper such as how the job changed you or how it enhanced or expanded your transferable skills. Rather than write the entire essay about a summer employment experience, you might use experiences at the job as examples to support the thesis of your essay.
3. Letter of Recommendation
While many colleges require applicants to send letters of recommendation from only teachers and the school counselor, some will also allow an additional letter. If this is the case, you may choose to ask your employer to write a letter of recommendation that focuses on your skills, positive attitude or a time your contribution to the business or organization went well beyond what is expected.
4. Additional Information Section of the Common Application
The Additional Information section of the Common Application is optional. If listing and briefly describing your summer job in the Activities section of the Common Application does not adequately convey the important role your job has played in your life AND your main college essay is about something other than your summer job, you may want to use the Additional Information section of the Common Application to expand on the impact of your summer job. For example, you may want to explain how your work experience will affect your involvement at your future campus or what you have learned from the job that will influence your decisions regarding future internships, your college major and your career choice. Additionally, it may be helpful for college admissions counselors to know how your summer job has influenced your values and beliefs or has significantly impacted who you are as a person.
How to showcase your summer job on your college application is up to you. If your summer job has little meaning beyond providing you with spending money, then it doesn’t warrant a prominent place on your application. List and briefly describe it in the Activities section and save the main essay or the Additional Information section to talk about an activity or experience that is more significant to you. But if your summer job experience has had a greater impact or demonstrates a core aspect of your character, values or trajectory in life, carefully consider how you can highlight that in your application.
About the Author: Michelle McAnaney is the founder of The College Spy, a full service independent educational consulting firm that assists students and families across the US and internationally with the college selection and application process. Prior to founding The College Spy, Michelle was a guidance counselor and educator for more than 15 years, including serving as the Director of Guidance at two high schools, an adjunct college professor and a GED tutor. Michelle holds a master’s degree in school counseling and a bachelor’s degree in human development. She completed UC Irvine’s certificate program in educational consulting and is a MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) Certified Practitioner and a NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) Master Practitioner. Michelle visits over 40 colleges each year so that she has first-hand knowledge of the colleges and universities her clients will be considering. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and on The College Spy Podcast.